ABC and NBC Fail to Correct Obama's 'Seance' Gaffe

Friday night stories on ABC's World News and the NBC Nightly News ran a clip of President-elect Barack Obama's gaffe at his press conference in which he related he had talked to all of the “living” former Presidents, as “I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances.” But both newscasts failed to note it was Hillary Clinton, not Nancy Reagan, who reportedly had seances in the White House. ABC's Jake Tapper called Obama's comment “a lighter moment” while NBC's Lee Cowan described it as “the only awkward moment of his first meeting with the press.”

FNC's Jim Angle, however, managed to point out in his 6 PM EST story: “It was actually Hillary Clinton who was reported to have engaged in seance-like sessions in which she communed with the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt.”

The AP also noted the error. “Obama slips in reference to seance by Nancy Reagan” announced the headline over a dispatch posted at 5:06 PM EST on Yahoo News. The AP's Kevin Freking recalled:

In his book, The Choice, Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward described how Clinton consulted with a spiritual adviser who led her through imaginary conversations with her personal hero, Eleanor Roosevelt. Newsweek magazine, which was promoting the book, characterized the visits as “seances,” a term that White House officials quickly tried to squelch.
Friday's CBS Evening News skipped the “seance” remark.

From the November 7 Special Report with Brit Hume on FNC:
JIM ANGLE: He was asked what he's been doing to get ready for office and whether he talked to any previous Presidents.

PRESIDENT-ELECT BARACK OBAMA: I have spoken to all of them, that are living, obviously, President Clinton -- I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances.

ANGLE: Nancy Reagan consulted with an astrologer about Ronald Reagan's schedule after he was shot. It was actually Hillary Clinton who was reported to have engaged in seance-like sessions in which she communed with the spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt.

ABC's World News:
JAKE TAPPER: Mr. Obama, in a lighter moment, said he was seeking advice from former Presidents.

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: So I have spoken to all of them that are living, obviously, President Clinton -- I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances.

TAPPER: Obama's day began with wife Michelle at parent-teacher conferences at the school of his young daughters Sasha and Malia. Perhaps the most substantive information Mr. Obama provided today was about the new puppy he's promised them...

NBC Nightly News:
LEE COWAN: And he said he's been seeking the advice of past Presidents, which provided the only awkward moment of his first meeting with the press.

PRESIDENT-ELECT OBAMA: So I have spoken to all of them that are living, obviously, President Clinton -- I didn't want to get into a Nancy Reagan thing about, you know, doing any seances.

COWAN: Those lighter moments punctuated what had been a pretty casual press conference, but it was short, less than 19 minutes long, only 9 questions. He takes this weekend off, and then he heads to Washington where he has that meeting in the Oval Office with President Bush on Monday, an office that will soon be his.
Brent Baker
Brent Baker
Brent Baker is the Steven P.J. Wood Senior Fellow and VP for Research and Publications at the Media Research Center